Maine Considers Marijuana as Treatment for Opioid Addiction

By John Lavitt 04/22/16

Maine could become the first state to specifically add opioid addiction as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana.

Maine Considers Marijuana As An Option To Treat Opioid Addiction
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At a public hearing Tuesday in Augusta, advocates of medical cannabis gave testimony telling state legislators that cannabis is a valuable treatment for opioid withdrawal, while offering an alternative to addictive prescription painkillers. The advocates are trying to convince the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to add opioid addiction to the list of conditions that can be legally treated with medical cannabis. In powerful testimony, 23-year-old Britney Lashier described how smoking marijuana "saved my life for sure," helping her break a heroin addiction that she picked up in Morocco while studying in college. 

The supporters who gathered at the hearing signed a petition for the state Health Department to consider, that would add opioid addiction to the list of qualifying conditions. They said that in states with fewer restrictions on medical marijuana, like California and Massachusetts, marijuana is already being prescribed to alleviate opioid withdrawal symptoms. But Maine would be the first to specifically list opioid addiction as a condition that can be treated with medical marijuana.

Representing those who oppose the petition, medical professionals pointed out that there is no scientific evidence backing up the proponents' claims. Psychiatrist Dr. Leah Bauer of the Maine Association of Psychiatric Physicians does not believe in taking this step. "A review of the medical literature shows that there is absolutely no evidence that marijuana is helpful in treating addiction, in fact there is suggestive evidence that it might make things worse," she said. "Granting this petition would simply encourage another intoxicating substance in the lives of those trying to overcome the ravages of addiction and in fact, marijuana may be pouring gasoline on the fire."

As the law currently stands, medical marijuana can legally be used in Maine, with permission from a doctor, for patients suffering from a range of conditions including chronic pain, cancer and glaucoma. The petition's supporters say marijuana is a better alternative than the popular medication-assisted treatment drugs that currently are being championed by the federal government like Suboxone. Dawson Julia, a medical marijuana caregiver, said the effects of painkillers are deceiving. “Quality of life goes up in the beginning, but often ends in a downgrade when you factor in all the side effects and addiction after time,” she said. “Addiction is guaranteed if you continue use of these drugs for a duration of time.” 

Ultimately, the final call lies in the hands of DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew, who has until July 10 to issue her decision.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.